Sound Transit held a hearing on the proposals for fare increases and honoring ORCA LIFT on ST Express and Sounder last Thursday, followed by a meeting of the board’s Operations and Administration Committee, where the proposals were vetted for a recommendation to the full board.
Sunnie Sterling, ST’s Revenue Analysis Manager, gave staff’s reason for bringing forward a fare proposal on ST Express as the need to consolidate its fares with partner agencies. Currently, the Regional Reduced Fare Permit fare — for seniors and riders with disabilities — on intra-county ST Express is 75 cents, while the RRFP fare on Link, Metro, Seattle Streetcars, Community Transit local buses, and Kitsap Transit local buses is $1. Pierce Transit is considering raising its RRFP fare to $1. The youth fare on intra-county ST Express is $1.25, while the youth fare on Link, Metro, Seattle Streetcars, and Community Transit local buses is $1.50. Multi-county ST Express fares are lower than Community Transit commuter fares, and would still be even after the proposed fare increases.
Sterling gave the need to maintain minimum fare recovery goals, and a projection that Sounder will be falling short starting in 2018, as the reason to bring forward the fare proposals for Sounder.
Sterling cited the costs of implementing ORCA LIFT as the reason for accelerating proposals on both services.
CORRECTION: In an email from Bruce Gray at Sound Transit, Sterling clarified that “LIFT and the other fare changes are part of updating Sound Transit fare structures on ST Express and Sounder to be consistent with partner agencies’ fares and to implement Board policies regarding farebox recovery goals.”
The additional fare revenue from the proposed fare increases on Sounder is projected to be $566,000 per year. The decreased fare revenue from honoring ORCA LIFT on Sounder is projected to be $56,000.
The additional fare revenue from the proposed fare increase on ST Express, less the decreased fare revenue from honoring ORCA LIFT just on the routes wholly operated in King County, is projected to be $661,000. However, the projection for honoring ORCA LIFT on all ST Express routes is for a $294,000 annual deficit. In other words, the annual cost of honoring LIFT on the routes not wholly operated in King County is projected to be $955,000.
Nine public speakers, all but one of them in favor of full ORCA LIFT adoption on all Sound Transit services, spoke. The ninth speaker complained about highway tolls and the state of the national government, with no mention of any Sound Transit policies. Seven of the speakers were from various groups that had signed on to a coalition letter in support of agency-wide ORCA LIFT adoption, including One America, the Transit Riders Union, Transportation Choices, and the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. All eight speakers opposed Option 2 for ST Express, which would implement a LIFT fare only on routes operated wholly within King County (522, 540-567, and 577), pointing out the confusion such a system would create for LIFT riders.
Operations and Administration Committee Meeting
The Operations and Administration Committee met shortly after the hearing, and unanimously agreed with every proposal before it except for the fare proposals. The first three motions were final authorizations for the CEO to execute three two-year contracts, with two-year extensions possible, totaling $2,400,000, for on-call professional asset management services. The assets they are looking to manage better than their peer agencies, over the coming decades, is primarily the light rail line and all its parts, but all of Sound Transit’s physical infrastructure in general. Sound Transit hopes to do most of its maintenance in-house, but values outside expertise enough to spend a little money on it, and get multiple opinions.
Five of the six remaining motions were positive recommendations to the full board for:
While the recommendation to the board to adopt the 2016 SIP was unanimous, board member John Marchione (Mayor of Redmond), who was chairing the meeting due to the absence of committee chair Paul Roberts (Everett City Councilmember), took the opportunity to publicly editorialize in favor of having all-day service on routes 541 and 542.
Part of the SIP discussion covered fleet acquisition, including the new double-talls for some of the ST Express routes Community Transit operates. Board member Dave Enslow (Mayor of Sumner) pined for having double-talls on Pierce County routes. He said the last time he rode on route 590 from Tacoma to Seattle, some riders had to stand. [ST recently reduced 590 runs to match ridership. Riders who don’t want to stand can wait at the front of the line for the next bus, which usually comes in 5 minutes during peak.] Staff explained that having double-talls in Pierce County would require major renovations to some bus stops, in particular Tacoma Dome Station, and to Pierce Transit’s maintenance yard.
ORCA LIFT Debate
The discussion on the fare proposals was a rare display of disagreement among Board members.
Two committee members who represent Sounder stations, Dave Earling (Mayor of Edmonds) and Dave Enslow (Mayor of Sumner), who had not attended the hearing on the topic, avoided talking about ORCA LIFT, and defended the current fares on Sounder. Sounder fares have only been raised once in the agency’s history, back in 2007, when the distance-based fares replaced zone-based fares.
Committee member Dave Upthegrove (King County Councilmember) was armed with studies showing that transportation is the second-largest expense, behind housing, for families living in poverty. He acknowledged that the committee would not come to agreement behind any fare proposals at that meeting. The committee followed staff’s advice, and forwarded all fare proposals to the full board, without recommendation.
Similar proposals for all ST services were considered by the board last year, with a low-income fare and fare increases being adopted on Link Light Rail only, which took effect this past March.
ST staff has provided STB with some additional data regarding ridership and cost projections, which will be presented in an analysis piece later this week.